Mirebalais, Haiti – Benjamin Sergot worked as a schoolteacher in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, before a devastating earthquake turned his world upside down last January 12th. Within moments, his home was destroyed and the school where he worked was turned to rubble. Benjamin decided to leave the city with his wife and two young children and seek out relatives in this verdant area a couple of hours’ drive north of the capital. Nine months later, with much of Port-au-Prince still in ruins, they remain crammed in their relatives’ home.
“The house is too small,” lamented Benjamin, who is 25. “We need extra mattresses, and there’s not enough food.”
Recognizing that thousands of families took in desperate friends and relatives like Benjamin after the quake – one family in this area has 15 displaced people living in its home – the American Red Cross is reaching out to provide assistance to “host families” across the country. Through a $4.8 million agreement with Mercy Corps, the Red Cross is funding a series of “market fairs” that allow these families an opportunity to repair their homes, purchase needed household items, and even send their children to school.
"Through these market fairs, the American Red Cross is pleased to be aiding families that so generously took in victims of the January earthquake,” said Judith St Fort, director of the American Red Cross’s Haiti Assistance Program. “They provided food, shelter and clothing to people in desperate circumstances, and many still have displaced friends and relatives living in their homes. We hope the items they have purchased at the market fairs will make their lives more comfortable and secure."
At the first market fair, held earlier this month on the outskirts of Mirebalais, 208 beneficiary families – each of which has hosted at least three people displaced by the earthquake – received vouchers worth about $225 to spend as they wished at stalls featuring the wares of local vendors. A total of 745 people attended the event, in which the Haitian Red Cross also participated.
Construction materials, such as metal sheeting for roofs, were the most popular items. Many other families chose household goods, from pots and pans to kitchen appliances (Mirebalais has electricity, unlike much of Haiti). Seven schools were also represented at the fair, and parents also had an opportunity to use their vouchers to buy school supplies or help pay school tuition. Sixty-four students registered for school at the fair.
“The beneficiaries were extremely thankful,” said Fabiola Coupet, spokesperson for Mercy Corps. “These were items that were otherwise out of their purchasing range.”
Some 30 to 40 market fairs, each aiming to reach about 300 host families, are planned over the next nine months. In total, the program is expected to provide assistance to about 10,000 families -- about 50,000 people -- in communities across the country.